Farid El Alagui
Why didn’t I pick Scott Allan? After dishing out my first 5* performance to Rado Cierzniak I could have been on a roll after some of the dross I’ve witnessed this season. I didn’t even need to be keeping a close eye on the midfielder to knew he was ABSOLUTELY brilliant in the second half against Falkirk.
Instead I went for the French/Moroccan forward Farid El Alagui. I’d been suckered in following his excellent performance against Hearts the week before. Considering the strength of opposition, his recent return from injury and a lack of rest having played 90 minutes against Dumbarton in the midweek, there was no right for him to shine in the derby. And yet he was excellent. He dominated Alim Ozturk in the air and scored the game-sealing second goal with a lovely dink over the diving Neil Alexander. Without a midweek game he was fully refreshed for this semi-final clash and I expected more of the same.
The formation remained the same with Stubbs preferring a 3-5-2 formation. It’s a system which has served Hibs well throughout the campaign and there was little need to tinker on the big stage. Up front El Alagui performed an identical role as to the one in the derby, spearheading the attack while striker-partner Jason Cummings dropped deep and buzzed around him.
El Alagui’s day could have been very different had he managed to get more purchase with his first touch. Bizarrely it was a header almost at ground level as he instinctively reacted to Jamie MacDonald ‘chesting’ away David McCraken’s toe-poke with a low-diving header. There just wasn’t quite enough on it and MacDonald was able to stop it crossing the line. He was also unlucky in a sense that Cummings cutback could have been better, which may have given him the opportunity to finish the chance in a more orthodox manner.
That goes in and I’m maybe talking about a different performance entirely. Instead I watched a player enter a bigger stage than the one he performed excellently on last week, and fail to show any of the same fight or determination.
He was the target of just about every Hibs long ball and yet he won only three of 18 headers in the game. When he wasn’t being beaten in the air he would run to the spot where he perceived the ball would land. Good strategy were it not for the opposing centre backs gladly attacking the free header time and again. In addition his passing was shoddy (completing three of nine) and he seemed incapable of holding the ball up at times. There was one instance where he successfully found Scott Robertson with his back to a defender, though not before he’d failed to control it with his first two touches and ended up slide tackling the ball in his teammates’ direction.
In his defence he isn’t just a target man. El Alagui has a tremendous scoring rate in the Scottish second tier and he did remain Hibs’ biggest goal threat throughout the match. Things could have turned out differently if his teammates provided better service. Cummings performed another poor cutback later in the half before Dylan McGeouch failed to spot El Alagui’s run on another attack. Even when those two players combined in the second half for the double chance that finished with Lewis Stevenson skying over, it was still a mistake from Cummings who had been aiming for El Alagui in the centre and not McGeouch on the right. This was the kind of situation our striker was having to deal with.
Although, even when the service was good, El Alagui still failed to rise to the occasion. He headed over from a corner shortly before the Falkirk goal, and then belted a late opportunity right at Jamie MacDonald after being found by an outrageous piece of vision by Allan.
On another occasion he was sent clean through by the same teammate, only for the linesman’s flag to shoot up. It was the wrong decision. He had timed his run perfectly. However, his touch around MacDonald was heavy and he may not have been able to keep the ball in play. Of course, this occurred at the time of the referee’s whistle. Chances are he heard it and that was responsible for the touch. But given the way he played the rest of the match I’m hesitate to grant him the benefit of the doubt.
I’ll be lenient and save him from the ignominy of receiving just a single star for his performance. Had Cummings been able to pick out his strike-partner on the three occasions when the opportunity arose then it may have been a very different day. I can’t know for sure.
What I do know is that Hibs have several cup finals (cliche alert) between now and their desired promised land of the Scottish Premiership. El Alagui can’t post this kind of performance on those occasions or there will be no immediate return for Hibs.
Of that I am certain.
The Football Critic
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